How being happy at work affects the rest of your life

Your happiness in life depends upon your happiness at work – make it a priority both inside and outside the office, every day

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Career Contessa

I felt a tough, hard little knot growing in the pit of my stomach. It was Sunday night. The weekend was over. Tomorrow morning, I had to go back to work – back to the office where I sat all day, feeling sad and deeply underutilised; the environment, so heavy with gossip and toxic with complaints.

The job was my first out of university. I had applied with great hopes—the job description was perfect, the company was located nearby, and it sounded like they had a strong team. All this fitted my criteria for a first full-time job, and I was thrilled to receive an offer a couple weeks after the interview.

Is anybody happy here?

The initial glow soon faded and I started to notice a distinct air of tension. Many of the people around me were unhappy. The angry ones buzzed about scandal. The despondent ones recalled dark memories. Half the employees were laid off right before Christmas – for the second year in a row. There were pay cuts for others, while the company owners redecorated their vacation home.

It seemed no one at the company was happy, and I soon followed suit. The worst part about being unhappy at work was that I wasn’t just unhappy there—I was unhappy all the time. It showed up everywhere in my life.

I have a distinct memory of one weekend morning, waking up with the sun streaming through the window. I saw the light playing in the curtains, smelled the fresh air, and felt wonderful. Then, seconds later, like a punch to my stomach—a wave of despair crashed into me. It wasn’t even a workday. I was just so unhappy that this was my life. I knew I had to do something to change this – but what?

How I brought happiness back

I wasn’t ready to leave my job. I was terrified of the unknown – of not knowing what the next day would bring, of changing my routines, of losing the security of a pay check and venturing into the scary world of job interviews and regular rejection. I was scared that I might just end up in another unhappy job—or worse. But I finally realised that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my overall happiness because I was scared of change, and I knew that if being unhappy at work could affect the rest of my life, so too could being happy.

So, instead of leaving my job, I decided to make some changes. I figured out how I could be happier at the office. I started by making more friends at work. I invited them out to happy hour and set one rule; no talking about work – and that included no gossiping or speaking ill of others!

I also started working on some projects outside of work. I began teaching myself to code, and learning about how to become a freelancer. Over time, I noticed that my happiness began to increase again and with it, so did my quality of work and quality of life. I noticed that I produced better work, faster. My co-workers even began to seek me out when they had problems to solve.

How my personal life followed

In my personal life my friends would comment on how I seemed perkier, and laughed more often. Looking back now, my whole life changed once I started making purposeful steps to become happy at work. 

If you’re struggling at work, as I was, think about what exactly is making you unhappy. Is it your boss? Your co-workers? Your work itself? Assess what, specifically, is holding you back, and then consider ways you can change the situation. Even the smallest steps can make a huge difference.

For example, if you don’t like how your boss interrupts you when you’re working, you can simply ask them to email their questions to you instead. Or, if you are unhappy with your work environment, find out if it’s possible to work from home at least one day a week. Or ask if you can switch locations, so you sit somewhere else.

You can also ask your friends what they would do if they were in your position. While you don’t have to take their advice, listen with an open mind. If they’ve seen you unhappy, they’ve probably already thought of ways you could fix your situation if you wanted to.

Remember that happiness – just like unhappiness – at work can affect every aspect of your life. So, make your workplace happiness your top priority, and begin enjoying the benefits today!

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